This informal CPD article is Part 1 of the “Individual learning” provided by Vasilis Palilis director of WIDE Training Academy of the WIDE Services company.
Old Learning Theories
In these articles, we examine some of the "old" learning theories with emphasis on the points that have been confirmed by the newer ones. The article has 2 parts.
1. In the first part, "Old learning theories", we briefly discuss the approaches of Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Cognitive constructivism.
2. In the second part, "Neuroscience View of Learning", we explore the newest theory of how we learn.
Let’s focus on the 1st part.
What is Individual learning?
By Individual learning, we mean the process by which an individual increases his/her knowledge. This process takes place within his/her social environment, interacting with it. In these articles, the emphasis is on the changes that take place in the individual, in the "mind" of the person.
For behaviorists, the mind is a "black box". In science and engineering, the term "black box" refers to a complex device for which we know the inputs and outputs, but not the internal structure or function. Behaviorists believe that the brain is so complex that we cannot understand it, so learning is related to the inputs (stimuli) and outputs (behavior) of the individual.
Particularly important was the perspective of B.F. Skinner who has defined learning as Behavior change and Operant conditioning. That is, we exist in some kind of environment that influences us with reinforcers, and our actions in that environment are a function of how we are rewarded or punished for our behavior. This results in some kind of learning, shaping or reinforcement of our behavior.
B.F. Skinner's most famous creation was the Learning machine. Among its advantages he listed the provision of immediate feedback, which is a timeless and ever-present educational demand. Some other characteristics of this machine were:
- The importance of accepting error as a motivation for increased participation in the educational process
- The importance of personalizing the educational process based on the needs of the learner
- The function of the program's creator as a teacher "behind the scenes"
Cognitive psychology accepts that there are inner mechanisms of human thought and processes of cognition that are causally related to our physical actions. Cognitivism puts forward a variety of concepts involved in information processing, metacognition, the idea that thinking or learning itself is primarily a cognitive activity that occurs in our heads and that knowledge itself is organized in this learning process.
The notion of schema or a schematic approach to learning emerges new ideas are considered, synthesized or combined with existing ideas to expand our existing schema.
A variety of techniques are presented for teaching based on this theory, Robert Gagne's nine instructional events constitute a prime example. Robert Gagné published the first edition of his book “The Conditions of Learning (1965)” in which he proposed nine events of instruction that provide a sequence for organizing a lesson. These events remain the foundation of current instructional design practice, represent desirable conditions in an instructional program, and increase the probability of successful learner achievement in the program. The events are:
1. Gain the attention of the students
2. Inform students of the objectives
3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
4. Present the content
5. Provide learning guidance
6. Elicit performance (practise)
7. Provide feedback
8. Assess performance
9. Enhance retention and transfer
Cognitive constructivism focuses on the idea that learning is related to the stage of human cognitive development and is the interconnection of new information with existing mental schemas, modifying them (or not) to incorporate the new information. Cognitive constructivism comes from the work of Jean Piaget and his research on children's cognitive development.
The process of learning and development according to this model is essentially based on the concept of equilibrium, which is the state where mental schemas are in tune with the information flowing from the environment and are fairly static and adaptive. Periodically, when we encounter something that disturbs or negatively affects the equilibrium, we move to patterns of assimilation or accommodation to take and acquire these new elements.
And as stated here by Piaget, his central philosophy was that "All structures are constructed .... Nothing is given in the beginning except some limiting points on which all the rest is based. Structures are not a priori given in the human mind nor in the external world as we perceive or organize it."
Jean Piaget's approach was a catalyst in the development of learning theories. It is certain that the earlier theories are now of limited application by themselves, but without them it is likely that the newer ones would not have had a base to act as a starting point!
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